Another Theory About Poetry


Sometimes I wonder if any great work of poetry actually sprang from a poet who wrote with intention rather that wrote from his or her own experience. That is not to say that there is no meaning in poetry, but those poems most fraught with meaning, most bound up in intention may be only secondarily so. That is, the poet in the composition of them followed the muse (inspiration, the Holy Spirit--you name the mysterious element that gives birth to art).

I ask because when I look around at all the earnest young artists today whose intent is to jolt, shock, and pull us out of our blase day-to-day plumbing of reality, their work is mostly of a moment. The shock wears off and the work becomes an artifact--a remnant of an era.

I look at some of the great poetry of the past and I see story telling, and yes, some kernel of a notion, some idea that gave birth to the whole--but I don't necessarily buy that the whole poem was constructed toward the end represented by the kernel. It may have been refined and perfected with the end in mind--but as I think about my poetry, I realize I don't think, "I'm going to bring this symbol and that symbol into conjunction and by their juxtaposition undermine this linguistic element. I think instead of a moment--real or imagined--a moment that means something--not in the sense of universal meaning, but in the sense of having importance in my understanding of how the world works. And thinking of that moment, I attempt to convey that understanding as best I can. There is no intent for this or that meaning. The words lead, I follow them.

And because that is the pattern, I often wonder whether all that is made of Eliot is purposive, or if rather he composed what made sense to him in all the complexity that is Eliot and we are left to divine purpose and intent where indeed the only purpose may have been to expel the irritant. When it happens we sometimes have pearls--but mostly we have dross--even in the works of the greatest poets--the discards more than likely greatly outnumber the poems that are worked to completion.

Just some thoughts, with no proof behind them.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on August 31, 2007 8:00 AM.

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